If you don't announce your pregnancy from a milk-filled bathtub surrounded by floating rose petals, are you really even pregnant? In the social media-saturated present-day, a simple hands-making-a-heart-on-a-pregnant-belly isn't nearly enough to make a splash in the exquisitely orchestrated pregnancy-announcement game. And as with everything in our online lives, you don't have to buy into the trend to feel pressured to sort of go along with the norms. A few years ago, social media didn't exist; now, if you don't drape yourself in tulle in front of a rose-covered trellis for your Instagram followers' enjoyment, it's as though you don't even love your child-to-be. For expectant moms who want to convey, "So... this is happening" and also "I'm excited/I have no idea what I'm doing help" to their loved ones, the high expectations can make that initial social media post a bit daunting. But how did pregnancy announcements get so extra?
It all seems to trace back to public figures. Beyoncé's famous announcement has been tied to everything from Frida Kahlo's work to Anne Geddes' "vegetal" baby arrangements, but the announcement itself represented the transformation of pregnancy news into a piece of art itself. The trend in years past was veeeery low key compared to now.
Vogue reports that Queen Elizabeth II's pregnancy with Prince Andrew in 1959 was announced as, essentially, an amendment to her work calendar (and, as Vogue notes, an apology). "The queen will undertake no further public engagements," read her statement. "Her majesty deeply regrets the disappointment which her inability to carry out her projected tour in West Africa." In the history of British monarchs, it was long considered uncouth to talk about royal uteruses, or risk jinxing the thing in an era when mother or baby didn't have the best odds for getting through the thing together. The announcement of Princess Diana's first pregnancy was notably more joyful — she and her husband released a simple joint statement. And by 2017, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were casually blasting out the news on Twitter without even stopping to use punctuation.
As the pregnancy announcement stakes were raised, some celebs opted to go the low-key route, pioneering super-chill announcement strategies that somehow drummed up more attention than a straightforward YouTube video would ever have achieved. Who could forget Blake Lively's 2014 debut of her sun-dappled bump in a carefree photo spread on her short-lived lifestyle website, Preserve? Then there were those who skipped the pregnancy announcement altogether — the ultimate power move.
If pregnancy announcements bring a sort of currency for a celebrity, you can bet that blindsiding the public with a finished baby takes that up to a new level.
Alexis Bledel was one celebrity who didn't let news of her pregnancy leak until she had already delivered. Vast swaths of the internet are busy speculating that Kylie Jenner plans on doing the same. If pregnancy announcements bring a sort of currency for a celebrity, you can bet that blindsiding the public with a finished baby takes that up to a new level. It's kind of like pulling a Beyoncé, except you're dropping a tiny human instead of new music.
Elsewhere, in a different line of notoriety, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern waited to announce her pregnancy until she had been through discussions to accept the top job — and surprise! She's due in June. The announcement was greeted as a jab at a sexist culture that expects women who are procreating to politely remove themselves from career tracks until they're done.
So where does that leave the everyman or woman? Real moms use social media to share things about their lives just like celebrities do. "Celebrity culture plays a role here ... especially given the amount of attention generated by someone like Beyoncé, or more recently, Khloé Kardashian — their pregnancy Instagram posts incite headlines on a global scale," Dr. Brooke Duffy, a professor in the Department of Communication at Cornell University, tells Romper via email.
And thanks to social media, spreading news about our personal lives has become so easy that it's almost second nature. However, there is a noticeable difference between the way people share everyday information ("The cashier forgot to charge me for extra guac!") and life events ("We're engaged!") on social media. Many non-famous "I'm pregnant!" Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter posts have gone almost as viral as celebrities' posts, garnering hundreds of thousands of shares as well as news coverage.
In recent years, there has been a huge rise in "viral" pregnancy announcements. There were Sam and Nia, the parents who announced a pregnancy (which the dad claims to have found out about first) and then a miscarriage on YouTube; the "Oops I'm pregnant again" couple who made a Britney Spears-inspired announcement video; the woman who posed for an incredibly over-the-top underwater maternity shoot; and inevitably the viral "birth" announcement of this woman's cat.
In order for a pregnancy announcement to make a big splash on Facebook, expecting parents will sometimes go the extra creative mile to curate the perfect post.
Pregnancy announcements are different in nature than many other life events. With things like engagements, weddings, new jobs, and so on, there is an actual event where people take photos that can be shared. Conversely, when it comes to announcing a pregnancy, there's no specific event that everyone experiences and shares. (I mean, everyone's pee stick looks pretty much the same...) So in order for a pregnancy announcement to make a big splash on Facebook, expecting parents will sometimes go the extra creative mile to curate the perfect post. Not to mention, as Duffy points out, an over-the-top Facebook post will help grab the eye of your followers in a sea of generic posts.
Because of this, people find it worth it to craft elaborate pregnancy announcements. "In order to rise above the endless stream of posts and status updates, people are incited to participate in more creative, compelling, remarkable forms of attention-seeking," she tells Romper.
There is an expectation to appear impromptu on social media, but when it comes to things like announcing a pregnancy, the rules change. "To the extent that there is an expectation that you appear spontaneous or unintentional on social media, that expectation is suspended when it comes to life cycle events," Dr. Jefferson Pooley, a professor of Media & Communication at Muhlenberg College, tells Romper over the phone. He adds that when it comes to events like announcing a pregnancy, "it's almost like a bracketing of those typical rules that you need to be apparently unintentional, that you are sort of allowed to have your performativity on display. There's no social expectation that you pretend otherwise."
Basically, the everyday rules of social media don't apply to non-everyday information.
Duffy also has some thoughts about the business side of these shoots. "Social media compels individuals to put their best selves forward ... which means carefully curating one's online persona with the production skills and — increasingly — promotional gusto of a professional," she tells Romper in an email. "And there's an economy springing up to support this with photographers, planners, and other service providers tailoring their services for the social media economy."
This video is a pregnancy announcement, yes, but it's also an expression of my love for my family, friends, and 90's house music. It only made sense.
For example, Brooklyn-based comedian Annie Donley recently hired a director and editor (Sandy Honig) to make a music video for her Facebook pregnancy announcement. The video, which stars Donley and her husband Joey Dundale, is a recreation of CeCe Peniston's "Finally" video. Within one day, her video racked up more than 7,000 views.
Donley tells Romper she decided to go above and beyond with her pregnancy announcement after being inspired by other pregnancy announcements, like Beyoncé's. "A simple text post? No honey, you must give the people what they want!! D-R-A-M-A," she tells Romper. "This video is a pregnancy announcement, yes, but it's also an expression of my love for my family, friends, and 90's house music. It only made sense." She also added that she wanted to announce her pregnancy in a joyful way that also lived up to her friends' expectations of her personality. "I tend to go over-the-top at clubs, parties, parades, etc so I believe my friends were expecting something that mirrored that energy," she continued. "It was important to me that the announcement have an inclusive sense of joy."
Social media's role in all this is changing the scope and immediacy of sharing information. "Announcing a significant life event — an engagement or pregnancy, for instance — has always had a 'public' dimension with the sharing of personal news with one's social connections," says Duffy. "The rise of social media changes the notification process in a number of ways, including the size of the social circle (from intimate to extensive) and the immediacy (i.e., the news is broadcast to everyone simultaneously)." Basically, social media allows us to tell a lot of people big news super quickly (and for free) — so why not take advantage of that?
Intricate pregnancy announcements can also be linked to the escalation of commercialization in our society, according to Dr. Lee Humphreys, author of the upcoming book The Qualified Self. "There are certain life moments or life stages in which they are becoming increasingly commercialized or commodified," she tells Romper over the phone. "Look at weddings, funerals, childhoods more broadly — the amount of money that we invest in these really everyday life events. I think increasingly, when it comes to parenthood, there is this [outlook that] the more you invest in it, the better you are as a parent, in some ways. That's what the ads will tell you."
The pressure to document a child's development has been around for a while — but social media has forced us to make it more public, and to start sooner. "The way that you document something is increasingly mediatized," says Humphreys. "But it's really important to put these practices into a longer historical context of pressures ... to document the life of your children." Thanks to technology and social media, many parents begin documenting a child's life before they are even born. Some expectant parents even begin a hashtag for their unborn children, while others go as far as to snag an email address, website, and social media handle with their unborn kid's first and last name.
The evolution of over-the-top pregnancy announcements may also have to do with advancements in health. "I think part of the reason why we can celebrate pregnancies is because infant mortality has gone down so much," says Humphreys. "When infant mortality was increasingly high, this notion about being pregnant … it was a remarkably dangerous thing for women." Basically, because there is less of a chance of having a miscarriage, modern parents are more inclined to share that they're expecting than parents were in the past.
Facebook friends will expect a follow-up post when the baby is born — so the stakes of having a miscarriage or stillbirth become even higher, because there is pressure to share that information online.
And because the risk of a miscarriage is higher in the first trimester, most expecting parents will wait until that time has passed before posting a pregnancy announcement on social media. "Each of these life stage moments are becoming hyper-mediatized in the social media environment, but they have ramifications," Humphreys adds. After posting about a pregnancy, especially in an ~extra~ way, Facebook friends will expect a follow-up post when the baby is born — so the stakes of having a miscarriage or stillbirth become even higher, because there is pressure to share that information online.
However, Humphreys notes that publicly sharing news of a miscarriage or stillbirth on social media can actually be helpful to some parents, due to the amount of social support they will likely receive. "There could be a lot of support … and recognition for these parents" on social media, she says. In fact, social media gives women a platform to help normalize openly discussing miscarriage and infant mortality, topics which are stigmatized and often not publicly talked about.
While some may believe publicizing your unborn child in hopes of receiving "likes" is strange, this trend did not suddenly afflict our society. The idea of announcing one's pregnancy has always existed — now it's just a lot more fun.
It's clear that a number of factors have contributed to the rise of ordinary people curating over-the-top pregnancy announcements. Still, there are still many parents who choose to keep their pregnancies from the public, for a number of reasons. Whatever way you choose to share the news of your pregnancy, if at all, is totally OK and up to you, petal-filled tub or not.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.